Don’t prepare, just show up

The title of this post is the subtitle of a book called Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, written by Patricia Ryan Madson. I really like this book. It’s a series of maxims about how to live your life using the lessons of improvisational theater. I had the pleasure of interviewing Patricia for the Cool Friend section at In the book, she writes about substituting attention for preparation. Applying this concept to speech giving, for instance, she writes, “Real speech (improvised speech) will always be more interesting, attention-getting, and persuasive than its scripted sister.” She goes on to offer some guidance in how to give a compelling talk:

You can improve how you give a lecture by using he principle of improvised speech. Instead of writing out your notes in precise language, try writing questions to yourself. Then, answer the question using natural speech patterns.

I was reminded of this the other day when reading an interview in the latest Worthwhile magazine with Garrison Keillor. (Interview not yet online.) Though he’s talking about people in pulpits on Sunday mornings, I think what he says applies to all of us:

I think that people who speak in public make a terrible mistake in putting paper in front of themselves. So many good people stand in a pulpit on Sunday morning and they pull out this little sheet of paper and they read from it. What they wrote down was just a start and if they were to trust themselves a little more they could have done so much better.


2 responses to “Don’t prepare, just show up

  1. Very interesting articles Erik. I think you could substitute “paper” with “PowerPoint slides” and you’d get the same meaning, and hit a whole new group of people.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. yes, phil, good thought re: powerpoints. seems to me the only value of powerpoint is for the audience to be able to take the slides away with them as notes on what they’ve heard presented, yet very few speakers share their slides, treating them as some sort of proprietary “intellectual capital.”